Those who were affected by the Oso mudslide gathered on the fifth anniversary last week to remember those who were lost and to reveal some of the first parts of a permanent memorial.
On March 22 family members and former Oso residents came to the site of the slide off of SR 530 to reflect on the event which killed 43 residents and destroyed an entire community.
Dayn Brunner, who lost his brother in the mudslide, spoke at the remembrance.
“We’re here to make sure that the legacies of those 43 victims live on forever,” he said.
“Lives were lost and prized possessions were gone, many people had to start completely over,” he said.
For many, the feelings of loss remain still.
“Year one was the time for healing and a lot of emotion. That emotion is still here today … it’s hard to get through this day,” said Brunner.
Cole Hadaway lost his uncle in the mudslide.
“This day brings up a lot of emotion. A lot of happy memories and joy, but a lot of sadness as well. Each year it doesn’t get any easier,” he said.
“I miss him every day and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him,” he said.
Others, like Amanda Suddarth, lost the community they had been living in as well as their house.
She remembers “getting a blanket from Julie [Farnes, a mudslide victim] even though I had only met her one time at a baby shower.”
“That blanket was recovered and I’m really thankful it was. Because now we have not only memories, but something physical,” she said.
Suddarth didn’t live in the Steelhead Drive community for long, but said she enjoyed her time there.
“I was just starting to get to know my neighbors and I’m really sorry I didn’t get to know everyone sooner,” she said.
The remembrance was planned by Snohomish County Parks and Recreation with guidance from the family members of those who were lost.
“It’s really important to make sure that the families have a seamless remembrance to remember their loved ones,” said Amy Lucas, senior planner with Snohomish County Parks and Recreation.
Cole Hadaway appreciated the work put into the event to remember those killed in the mudslide.
“This day has brought everyone together to honor all the families that have been lost,” he said.
“It’s wonderful to see an amazing turnout this year, with all the people here to honor the lives that were lost,” he said.
Snohomish County Parks and Recreation have begun work to transition the site to become a permanent memorial as well.
“Shortly after the slide there was discussion of a memorial for the site, but really two years ago the talks really began for what a memorial might look like,” said Sharon Swan, senior planner with Snohomish County Parks and Recreation.
The memorial is being planned by a group including many family members of those who were lost and will focus on “recognition of the victims, the first responders and the geology of the slide and why it happened,” said Swan.
The first piece of the permanent memorial was unveiled at the gathering this year, a sculpture that recreates the group of mailboxes that was at the entrance of the Steelhead Drive community.
“In one of the early meetings, they pulled out this picture [of the Steelhead Drive mailboxes] and said that we should recreate this,” said Swan.
“Since then a mailbox replica sculpture has been part of the memorial plan,” she said.
As a simple representation that this area used to be home and community for many, the sculpture has resonated with many, said Swan.
“Driving by you couldn’t see the houses because of the line of trees but you could see this cluster of mailboxes so you knew that the homes were there,” she said.
An artist worked with just two photographs of the mailboxes to recreate them as a sculpture.
Suddarth was happy that a piece of the old community had been restored.
“To me, the mailboxes were a sign that I was home, and it might sound silly but after a long day it was comforting seeing them and knowing that I was safe at home with my boys,” she said.
“The slide took away any resemblance of home for all of us, so knowing that we have our mailboxes back is comforting. That there is something to show people that we were here and that we all had memories here,” she said.
Community members also gathered to celebrate the renaming of the highway to the Oso Slide Memorial Highway.
The highway renaming became official on Feb. 20.
“After many emails and phone calls and a lot of angels behind me, it became a fact,” said John Hadaway, who lost his brother in the mudslide and led the effort to change the highway name.
“He pushed what would normally be about a one-year ordeal and managed it in about six weeks,” said Brunner.
Local transportation officials were happy to help commemorate the area.
“Anyone who travels this corridor will know its significance,” said Roger Millar, secretary for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“We’re really happy we were able to do our part in getting the highway renamed in honor of the lives that were lost and the lives that were changed forever,” he said.
Washington State Transportation Commission member Debbie Young said one of the jobs of the commission is to approve the naming and renaming of highways.
“When a renaming proposal comes before us it is often preceded by a great tragedy,” she said.
“However, it also means there is a dedicated community of survivors who are finding a way to cope with their loss and commemorate their loved ones,” she said.
Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and plan to continue work to build a permanent memorial on the site this summer.
“The next step we’re looking at is really raising funds for this, getting serious about that,” said Tom Teigen, director of Snohomish County Parks and Recreation.
“We have a fundraiser coming up in June in Seattle, and we’re hoping to raise over $100,000,” said Lucas.
They’re still looking for sponsors and auction donations for that event as well, said Lucas.
For more information on how to donate, go to www.slidememorial.com.